Add South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham to the list of veteran GOP lawmakers who have drawn a challenge from the right for the 2014 midterm cycle.
Nancy Mace, the first female graduate of The Citadel, announced over the weekend that she will challenge Mr. Graham next year.
“I believe this government is out of touch,” Mrs. Mace, 35, said at a Berkeley County GOP breakfast in her hometown of Goose Creek. “Washington thinks it knows better than the people. The federal government has worked its way into nearly every corner of our lives, trying to solve every problem for us. And yet, we are still not better off for it.”
The married mother of four signaled her intent to launch a campaign by traveling to Washington last month to meet with conservative insiders and by asking supporters last week to donate money to her campaign.
“I need your help to make sure that South Carolina’s conservative values are represented in the U.S. Senate,” Mrs. Mace said on her website. “We have a long campaign ahead of us, and we can’t do it without your support.”
Tea party groups have been clamoring for someone to try to take on Mr. Graham, who they say has habitually sold out the limited-government principles that fuel the grass-roots movement.
Richard Cash, a businessman from Easley, is already in the GOP primary race and libertarian state Sen. Lee Bright is expected to jump into the race shortly.
Mr. Graham would expect to have a big fundraising and name-recognition advantage in a crowded field, but he would have to get more than 50 percent in the first round to avoid what could be a much more dangerous one-on-one battle with his strongest rival.
Some tea partyers and conservatives deride Mr. Graham, 58, as a “RINO,” or “Republican in name only,” and accuse him of being too willing to compromise with Democrats — most recently by signing on with the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” that wrote a comprehensive immigration overhaul bill that includes eventual citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants. His open opposition to Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul during the libertarian lawmaker’s epic 13-hour filibuster in March over U.S. drone policy also angered many on the right.
Mr. Graham, though, has been one of the sharpest critics of the way the Obama administration handled the attacks in Benghazi, Libya, and one of the loudest voices on Capitol Hill when it comes to the threat that radical Islam poses to the U.S.
The two-term senator appears to be in good financial shape as he looks toward winning a third term. As of June 30, Mr. Graham had $6.3 million cash on hand for re-election.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, and Sen. Michael B. Enzi, Wyoming Republican, are also facing primary challenges next year.
Mr. McConnell is being challenged by wealthy Louisville businessman Matt Bevin, and Mr. Enzi is being challenge by Liz Cheney, the eldest daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Republicans need to capture a net of six seats in the midterm election to take over the Senate, and they are hoping to avoid a repeat of the 2010 and 2012 elections, where Democrats won some seats after veteran GOP lawmakers were knocked off by more ideological primary challengers who then fell short in the general election or did not appeal to a broad enough electorate to win.
Mrs. Mace’s campaign announcement comes a week after a conservative South Carolina group launched a grass-roots campaign targeting Mr. Graham in the 2014 election.
Carolina Conservatives United, a nonprofit organization, said Mr. Graham has made a habit of saying one thing but doing another, showing “contempt” in the process for small-government advocates.
“We never know which Lindsey Graham will show up in Washington each day,” said Bruce Carroll, the group’s chairman. “He’s more likely to side with liberal Senate Democrats on important votes than with [fellow South Carolina GOP Sen.] Tim Scott or the South Carolina Republican congressional delegation.”
In making her announcement, Mrs. Mace spoke about the influence President Reagan had on her politics, adding, “We cannot change Washington unless we change who we send to Washington.”
“Americans are waking up to the fact that our freedoms are being threatened,” she said. “There are powerful forces in Washington that consider individual liberty passe and the Constitution a dead letter. I believe our state desperately needs new leadership — someone who truly understands the challenges before us and what’s at stake and is willing to fight for the principles that make America great.”